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Ballet Talk for Dancers

stage presence


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My DS has a wonderful body, good lines, and techiqnue but has a hard time with facial expressions. If you tell him to smile it looks like he is straining. I try to tell him show his passion for dancing but he does not get it...Can anyone help or give me suggestions?

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Try a less "passionate" emotion. Tell him to relax. Many times, students mistake frenzy for passion. I'm moving this to Moms and Dads, as this forum is for the men, and men only.

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robinmc, I don't know how old your son is and what he's experienced in his life. If someone hasn't experienced certain "passions" or emotions, it can be difficult to try to recreate them on stage...unless they're experienced actors.


Do his teachers discuss this with him? I'd leave it up to them to work on it with your son and as Mel has suggested - it might be better to encourage your son to relax and enjoy himself...thereby feeling the music more and from there it may all start to flow naturally. Just some morning thoughts from me. :firedevil:

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What is helping for our DD is her understanding that people need to "see" what she "feels" on stage not just what she "does". She was having trouble showing expression as well and that mantra seems to have broken through a little.



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It helps tremendously for the dancer to look at videos of her/himself in performance. Often people think that they are showing expression but they're not. A video won't lie. After viewing it, the teacher can make suggestions which the dancer immediately tries while being videotaped. The dancer can even practice in front of a mirror while being taped. Review THAT, continue practicing and taping until the dancer sees the difference and can feel the changes in the body that created that difference.


If a teacher can't afford the time, it can be done at home.


All humans have the same basic feelings - love, hate, fear, pride, etc. - even if we don't have the same experiences. The dancer has to build a NEW muscular memory of what it feels like to show expression because his/her body right now is used to an inaccurate portrayal. In other words, it's a bad habit. :P It's not enough to just tell someone to change, or to just tell someone to show expression. To someone who doesn't feel it instinctively, it needs to be broken down into little pieces and worked on regularly to build that new muscular vocabulary.

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I think this is a fascinating discussion, because it is so different from art to art ... I would never have thought of what Jacki wrote -- training new "emoto muscles!"


I remember when I was a flute student FEELING all emotional with a piece I was playing for my teacher. I was moving around with great gusto while I played, thinking it was all coming across, when she stopped me and said, "o.k. - all that emotion you are putting into your body, dancing around like that while you play .... hold your body still and put in that emotion into your flute, because," she said, "NONE of it is coming across in your music!" Wasn't that a shock!


I imagine it must be the same for some in dance ... it doesn't matter if your heart is full ... if it doesn't come across to the audience, you can feel all the feeling in the world ... for naught. :P

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For young dancers, and even older ones, a fun thing to do is to find out what the music is about, easy enough if it is part of a ballet and one can find the actual story, online or anywhere. If not, then learning about the composer or choreographer can help. If none of this info is available (or not 'available' to the younger dancer) then listening to the music and making up ones own story can help. Then, the process of acting out the story can lend expression to the performance.


Interestingly enough, some of the kids have great expression and presence in class or rehearsal and then absolutely none on stage during performance. Then, there is often the reverse. Some kids have natural presence and some have to work at it. For some it can be a matter of getting more experience on stage, losing the timidity and then feeling free to 'perform'.

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My daughter was told by a teacher to "dance big" to help with stage presence. She said it felt strange at first--like she was overdoing it--but realizes now the difference it can make. Facial expressions, though, are still a work in progress. :wink:

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Guest arabento

This is a subject I am interested in as my DS has trouble showing emotion on stage and in auditions. When asked about it, he says he is concentrating and trying to get the steps right. Well, today his school had their class concert (Don Q) and he was on stage. My oldest son who has been involved in theater, immediately said "he has stage fright". It did get better the longer they were on stage and as he got into the music and performance so I think is curable, but I had never thought of stage fright before as he says he is excited to be dancing on stage. Just goes to show that sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to see a problem. Now that we know he might have stage fright we can work on getting comfortable on stage from the start. This probably also correlates with his EXTREME (teacher's words) test anxiety that he has in school.

Just an aside, their class concert was great. The school finally has enough boys that they can do some different things. The sight of 10 boys doing their cape work was amazing. The girls were also great and you could tell they were having fun. After the performance the older girls did their modern dance. Very East Indian/Balinese and a different aspect of the dance world. Even my mother who doesn't like modern dance enjoyed it. Dance is now over for a few weeks, but he is looking forward to summer dance camp and then starting the new semester in Aug. But for now it will be fun for him to enjoy the summer and the outdoors.

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My dks started out in one of those schools that had everything-ballet/tap/jazz/singing, etc. They did a lot of performances at restaurants, malls, rotary clubs, you name it. The school directors focus for them was making their audience feel better--raising someone's spirits, helping people enjoy themselves. When it became obvious that my kids needed more professional training, we moved on to a very good technical school focusing on technique, technique, technique. It soon became apparent at performances that my girls were more comfortable on stage than most of the other students. Everyone who had gone to the "good school" from a young age was so focused on themselves--would they make a technical error, would the director single them out to criticize---that they could not relax and dance. Of course, dancers need technical training. But the total focus on technique removes them from the love of performing which is certainly necessary for a professional dancer. As they matured, they could understand the emotions of specific roles--what would a young girl in love feel and look like, what would the ugly stepsisters act like, etc. The artistry and performance should be as important as the technique. The audience relates much more to the dancer who makes them care whether or not the boy will choose to marry her than if she can close a perfect 5th.

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encouraging DKs to create "backstories" for whatever they're doing on stage is so crucial to helping them relax and feel connected to the part they're playing. Even if they're a darn Candy Cane, they can create a story in their own minds of what a Candy Cane is and how it should make the audience feel. Really learning how to listen to the music helps, too. It's all about communicating something to the audience, and the sooner a performer sees him or herself in relation to and in the communication with the audience, the sooner the stage fright disappears.

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Yes, a backstory is the key.


It is absolutely crucial that a dancer has made a decision about their character, even if it's a Balanchine leotard ballet.


During rehearsals, you should be getting clues about the direction of the ballet from the choreographer, for example: Nutcracker (I know, I know but it's easily related to! :thumbsup: ) Clara's choreography has within it some pushing of her brother. She is also told to stomp after him when he races by her. From this, you can conclude that Clara is not to be portrayed as an innocent angel, but more towards a real girl. Or, if her choreography has her never rebuking her brother, nor ever even showing an untoward glance his way, you go the angel direction.


Then, you write your character bio. A character bio should include your character's full name, age, family information, general era research, as well as temperments of the times.


So, if I'm doing 'Candy Cane # 99', my character bio might look something like this:

Hi. My name is Sarah Cane and I'm 10. I have 96 brother and sisters, and we live in a beautiful place called Christmas, where it's always snowy and glistening. My responsibility is great for I am helping Santa Claus to always be in a good mood- he loves candy canes and everytime he looks at us, he smiles and feels like he can make more toys. When he smiles at me I am so happy. Etc.


Then, when you are on stage dancing, those are the thoughts you are thinking while you are dancing.


If the ballet is on a more emotional level, as opposed to a story ballet, you should still do a character bio. You can create your own characterization, based upon the movements and the corrections you are being given. Just prior to performing, you 'get into character' by thinking about your bio, how your character is feeling, and what your character is thinking. Then you become that character for the moment, and can transform the audience's experience in so doing!

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What a terrific tip Clara!


Dd is doing Giselle this year so I'll pass on this tip to her


thanks :unsure:

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Wow, I like those tips Chauffeur and Clara 76. I'll print them out for dd. She tells me that when she was doing Clara this year she would sit in our living room with the lights off and just the Christmas tree lights on and put herself in character - imagining what it would be like for a little girl to come down the stairs at night looking for her beloved Nutcracker, the fright of seeing the mice, etc.

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  • 4 weeks later...
Guest Bryan Lawrence

It seems the topic has changed from concern about presentation on stage and thoughts about how to feel a particular role. I think I found it easier to portray a character than to be myself. But then again, I wouldn't have really wanted to portray myself as I had very little confidence. I discovered in later life that I was a depressive. I feel that that was a problem with my dancing, probably from the begining. I remember Jack Hart saying to me, "I don't understand you. Sometimes you are up there and other times" ----- I cant' remenber the expression he used. I know, people were puzzled about me. They felt I had a good technique but ....... I feel I really changed when Dame Peggy Van Praagh asked me to come to Australia to join the Australian Ballet as a Principal Dancer. Someone had faith in me. This did a lot for me. Sir Robert Helpmann also showed confidence in me and I created the role of the Leader of the gang in his ballet 'The Display' when I first arrived in Australia. Funnily enough I was dancing the role of the typical Australian. I was very well received by the Australian Ballet and my regular partner, Marilyn Jones was just wonderful. So, coming back to the problem, I think to express yourself freely on stage you have to be a free person and you have to have faith in yourself, otherwise you are really putting it on and it is a struggle. Part of being a depressive is lack of confidence but this is what has to be tackled. You have to change your thoughts from, oh heck I hope I do a good performance to, I don't care, I'm going to go out there and stun them. To feel the opposite doesn't help so aim to change your thoughts. We usually don't feel as good as we really are. It's all very well for me to spout on in my retirement but I hope this makes some sense.

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